Three separate ‘movie-style sets’—designed and constructed to mirror a rural African clinic, an urban clinic and an emergency room, formed part of a GE event last year, aimed at communicating the brand’s ‘Healthymagination’ health initiative in developing countries to industry leaders. Devised by agencyEA, the different sets featured doctors sharing their stories in person, highlighting how GE’s healthcare technology works in each of the three settings.
GE’s activity is a sign of how companies are increasingly looking to incorporate brand stories within B2B events. Brands are now taking a more holistic approach to marketing and engagement, while also shifting their attention to the live space.
“Brand experiences have the ability to engage all the senses, and they provide the perfect platform for companies to engage in brand storytelling in a more immersive and memorable way,” says Jordan Waid, VP, brand experience at FreemanXP EMEA. “They allow guests to get under the skin of a brand and experience its values, purpose, contributions and DNA first-hand.”
Uniplan Hong Kong says that it has seen an increasing emphasis placed on the strategy and deeper meaning of ‘brand’, with a need to ensure that content, entertainment and audience engagement are aligned.
“This means understanding the tone of voice, the overall vision and mission of an organisation, and really digging into how the brand expresses itself across all touchpoints,” says Jane Saunders, director of planning and strategy at the agency.
This increasing trend towards storytelling in events is, believes Antoine Gouin, managing director Asia at Auditoire, being driven by the fact that attendees have started craving more, looking for an emotional connection between themselves and brands.
“It is not only about telling a basic story or attracting the attention or describing a product, but experiencing it and bringing to life a key message—this is what we refer to as personalisation of the story,” he says. “The audience looks for moments of engagement through the ‘experience’ that can be leveraged through social media, digital platforms and other forms of communication.”
Up close and personal
Just because people are at an event, however, does not mean you can assume your story will stick in their minds or have the desired effect. For a story to be relevant to the individual, it must be told in a way that is emotive and reflects who they are.
“It’s why brand storyworlds are an effective approach—one brand may have multiple stories to tell, and these can be tailored in line with the different people they are looking to engage, based on insights including wants, needs, demographics, age, background, areas of expertise and more,” says FreemanXP’s Waid.
He adds that successful storyworlds engage audiences through a personalised approach pre-, during and post-event. This involves customising the journey so that the individual feels as though they are the main ‘character’ from the very beginning.
“As the experience evolves and the event begins, personalisation plays a role across various touch points, from the content programme to hands-on engagement and participatory devices such as second-screen technology, which all enable real-time dialogue, feedback and sharing,” he explains.
And once the event ends, planners can keep the experience going by highlighting how guests can be a part of the next chapter in the story. Feedback around attendee behaviour, which can be gathered through means such as AI technologies, heat mapping and scanning stations, for example, play an important role, allowing planners to understand audiences better and create these new brand stories accordingly.
Selene Chin, managing director of Pico Pixel, advocates the use of technology; if a brand has a history with a particular customer, then the relevant data can be leveraged for the event—allowing the customer to personally interact with the content presented at the events.
“If the customer is new, be sure that you present them with options so they can browse, plan and plot the optimal content journey for themselves,” says Chin. “Most importantly, where relevant, your messages should reflect your understanding of your audience. Generally, your interactions across touch points should be a continuation of a dialogue, not a ‘one-way download’ of whatever your brand wants to tell them.”
It’s important to remember that audiences don’t arrive on-site necessarily expecting personalised experiences—they are looking primarily for engaging, memorable and relevant brand communications.
“The brand needs to know its boundaries too—audiences don’t want a brand to overreach its relationship with them through its “knowledge” of the audience,” says Natalie Ackerman, SVP, Greater China at Jack Morton. “What often works well is where audiences can be a part of the story, which could be through live tweet walls, participation areas and other forms of user-generated content. In this way, they can dictate their own level of immersion.”